4 Ways the Internet is Making Kids Smarter

Despite fueling an age of technological marvels, the Internet is often derided as being as harmful to humanity as it is helpful. But even if a steady diet of cat videos and Facebook posts isn’t a recipe for mental acuity, the Internet really is making the children of today smarter (as compared to their predecessors) in at least four key ways.

Which is not to say that “smarter” is synonymous with “genius.” It might be better to say that today’s children—more than ninety percent of whom will have an online history by age two—are developing key tech-friendly skills at an earlier age. By engaging their brains in more complex tasks at a younger stage in their lives, toddlers are improving cognition and critical review skills, and displaying a more advanced understanding of both virtual and real worlds.

In addition to stronger memory, comprehension, and abstract thought, children who regularly use the Internet also display a more proactive approach to information gathering and experience improved performance in visual learning (e.g., reading comprehension). Language fluency and vocabulary get a boost as well, and some kids even experience a jump in IQ (as high as six points over the course of nine months).

Beyond mental performance, kids and teens using the Internet (and social media) exhibit stronger social skills, better vocabularies, and greater confidence. They may even show greater compassion for others as a result of their experiences on social media sites.

It’s clear that the Internet is having a very real impact on society. And whether it’s making kids smarter or simply more capable in an increasingly electronic world, the Internet will continue to fuel discussions about its impact on children long after today’s wunderkinder have begun raising the geniuses of tomorrow.

4 Ways the Internet is Making Kids Smarter

4 Ways the Internet is Making Kids Smarter

According to a study by Internet security software giant, AVG, by the time children reach the age of 2, 90% of them have an online history. By the time they’re five, half of them have already used a tablet or other Internet connected device, and by the time they reach age 7 or 8, many of them are already playing video games regularly. Is that such a bad thing?

Improved Cognition

Using the Internet can improve cognitive abilities such as:


  • Transactive memory, or relying on other information stores, from friends, family, or Google has been around for thousands of years.
    • Research shows we are “dumber” when we are not around other people
  • The Internet gives us instant access to transactive memory, helping us get rid of “tip of the tongue syndrome by filling in what we do know about something to find the answer we’re looking for.

Spatial and logical problem solving

  • Students are proactive in finding information for themselves, rather than waiting for a teacher or tutor to come help them.
  • Studies of 4-and 5-year-olds found that use of developmental software increased their IQ by an average of six points over nine months of computer exposure.
    • The children also showed significant gains in:
      • Long-term memory
      • Fine motor skills
      • Structural knowledge
    • Children who used the drill method of learning suffered a 50% loss in creativity.

Critical thinking

  • Children need to learn the difference between useful sources or misinformation.
    • This forces them to learn to think more critically, to discern quality sources from Internet “junk.



  • Several online “games” help children learn and practice abstract math concepts.


  • Studies show children who have Internet access at home get better grades.
    • Studies show children who used the Internet more had higher scores on standardized reading tests after six months
      • Higher grade point averages one year and 16 months after the start of the study than children who used the Internet less.

Increased Interest in Reading

According to a Scholastic study:

  • 62% of children would rather read a printed book than on the internet.
  • Kids use the Internet to learn more about authors, find books, and check books out from the local library, suggesting the Internet fosters a love for reading.

Studies show kindergarten and first graders who are presented with digital text alongside dictionaries can improve:

  • Phonological awareness
  • Word-reading skills
  • Vocabulary knowledge

Studies have shown using e-reading technology with students who are struggling allows them more practice and helps them improve.

Older readers who use e-reading technology have seen improvements with:

  • Fluency
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension

Studies show an average of 27% improvement in vocabulary with 5-year-olds using an iPod Touch with an educational app called Martha Speaks.

Another study with a different educational app showed three-year-olds showing a 17% gain.

Improved Writing Ability

A Stanford University study collected 877 freshman composition papers written in 2006 and compared them to papers written in 1986, 1930, and 1917.

  • Error rates barely changed.
    • 11 errors per 100 words in 1917
    • 26 errors per 100 words in 2006
  • Almost no instances of “text-speak.”
    • Supposedly, teens are writing with “textisms” such as:
      • LOL
      • BTW
      • Smileys
    • University of Toronto linguist Sali Tagliamonte found:
      • When students do use “textisms” they are used intentionally for wit
    • Improved length and complexity.
      • 1917: average of 162 words in length, mostly personal narrative style.
      • 1986: average of 422 words in length
      • 2006: average of 1,038 words in length, arguments well researched and supported.

Improved composition abilities are thought to be attributed to the fact that in the past, students did little writing outside of school.

  • Today, they “write” their thoughts on social media, in text messages, instant messages, and in emails.
  • Students write faster than they did before.
    • Technology enables students to quickly “write” ideas and thoughts they may have lost due to the time it takes to write with traditional implements of the past.

Improved Social Skills

Using email and instant messaging appropriately can help children strengthen their social skills.

  • Communicating electronically with children as virtual pen pals can help them learn about other cultures and customs.
  • Common Sense Media studies show:
    • 29% of teens using social media say it helps them feel less shy.
    • 20% of teens using social media say it helps them feel more confident.
    • 19% believe it makes them sympathetic to others.

What You Can Do as a Parent to Make the Most of the Internet

Get involved with your child’s Internet usage.

  • Know what they’re doing online, and when they’re doing it.
    • Use parental controls to block inappropriate material.
  • Keep the computer in a common area of the home.
  • Spend time online with them to teach them good habits.
    • Let them ask questions. Talk with them.
  • Bookmark their favorite sites so they can easily access them.
  • Talk with them about the dangers of using the Internet.
    • Know what safety measures are in place at school and other caregiver’s homes.

Set basic rules, and provide consequences when they’re not followed.

  • Time limits: Set a limit that you’re comfortable with.
  • One screen at a time: No TV while on the computer
  • No sharing of personal information online.


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